When I was growing up there were three things that didn’t happen in my grandparents’ house. You didn’t talk back. You didn’t leave food on your plate. And on Saturday afternoons from 1 to 2 pm, you didn’t miss Soul Train. The TV was on channel 48 and that was all she wrote! On Saturday, September 27, 1975, as I sat on the plastic runner that sat on our forest green “shag-esque” carpet, my eight-year-old self learned one of the reasons Soul Train was mandatory. Tavares took the stage to perform their soon-to-be pop, dance, and soul top ten smash, “It Only Takes a Minute,” and my world was opened to a whole new thing!
The Tavares brothers grew up with music, mainly due to their singer/musician father, Flash, but becoming a musical group was not a conscious decision. “We were all gifted but discovered it as we were growing up. I have been singing since I was seven, and my younger brothers were babies, so we didn’t even know we would all be talented,” says Chubby.
Even though Chubby was the sixth born of nine kids, he grew into being the musical leader. This was largely due to him always tagging along with his dad to gigs and shows. Even though they naturally grew into a group, coming up with a name wasn’t as simple. They started as Chubby and the Realities. Next, they were Chubby and the Turnpikes. When his older brother Ralph returned from the military, the family went with the “blood bro code” and changed the name to The Turnpikes with Ralph as the leader. But while they were on tour in Italy opening up for Lola Falana (brother Butch’s wife at the time) they realized Italians didn’t know what a turnpike was, so they went on as the Tavares Brothers and eventually became Tavares. Regardless of what name they were using, one thing that was consistent was their talent…and that talent became known to the world in 1973 with their first Billboard Hot Soul Single chart top ten record (peaking at number five), “Check it Out,” which also went to the top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It was their 1974 cover of the Hall and Oates classic “She’s Gone,” however, that made a big splash. Ironically, Tavares had a bigger hit with the song than Hall and Oates—at first.
Hall and Oates realized the missed opportunity and re-released the song in 1976. This time, it hit the top ten on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. It also made the Hot Soul Singles chart, helping Hall and Oates build a Black following they maintained throughout their recording career. Tavares helped make “She’s Gone” a classic but is rarely acknowledged. Throughout the group’s recording career, they had success with several remakes of love songs including The Four Tops’ “Remember What I Told You to Forget,” Marion Jarvis’ “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” and, of course, the Bee Gees classic “More Than a Woman.” Unfortunately, “More Than a Woman” was another recording where the label decided not to heavily promote their version of the song to pop audiences. Regardless, what still comes through with Tavares with “More Than A Woman (and their other covers) is their ability to deliver impeccable interpretations that make you question whose version is actually the original.
In 2012, Chubby released his first solo album, Jealousy. In the ten years since, his projects have reflected his personal journey. Can’t Knock Me Down (released in 2015) offered commentary on losing children to senseless violence. He followed that up with 2018’s reflective Amazing Ride. So, it’s no surprise his current project, Unlikely Hero, explores some of his recent experiences including the deaths of his son Ryan, and brother Ralph, and how he has managed these challenges. Inspired by his mentor, Marvin Gaye, the songs on this album are a testament to the importance of storytelling through song and Chubby’s belief in the power of lyrics. After my first listen to the album, I immediately felt lighter. Inspired. Chubby affirms that feeling. “That’s intentional,” he says. “I had a purpose. I wanted to create music that would help [at] this is time in our lives with what’s going on in this world. I was going through something, but everyone is going through something right now. It was cathartic for me, and I wanted it to help others.”
Chubby is successful in crafting a collection of songs that allow us to experience emotion while providing a template of hope for healing. He does it with the help of a village of incredible musicians. Unlikely Hero is produced by Preston Glass, who Chubby has worked with since 2013, but they approached this project differently. Normally, Preston would send Chubby instrumental tracks and the lyrics sheets to record the vocals. For Unlikely Hero, Chubby flew to California and stayed with Preston. Each day they took on one song. “He gave me the song the day before to work on. I would ‘sleep with the song’ and then go in the next day and record it. It made such a difference!”
The songs reflect the dedication and intimacy of the process. It’s all through the debut single, “If It’s Written In the Stars,” co-written by Glass and our very own David Nathan (founder of SoulMusic.com).
“If it’s written in the stars
Time will prove us right
We’ll go by the light
Of our hearts”
“If It’s Written in the Stars” is a beautiful journey that allows us, lyrically and rhythmically, to breathe easy when it comes to love. Love is and if it is meant to be it is. There is no work. No grind. No maneuvering nor manipulation, if someone is for you, they simply are. This lesson can be applied to life at-large. It is a message of hope and trust in something greater than ourselves. As opposed to constantly trying to make things happen that may not be meant to be, the song suggests we need to be still and listen to the voice inside of us that knows who we truly are and where we are supposed to be.
“Looking up and never way down below
We don’t know down; we don’t know frowns”
On “Cryin’ Ryan,” Chubby speaks straight from the heart in tribute to his son. “We used to tease my son. We would say, ‘You cry all the time. You cry when you’re sad. You cry when you’re happy. We should call you Crying Ryan.’ I told Preston that and we worked with Nigel Lewis to create the song.”
The album includes eight original tracks, as well as covers of two Motown tracks: he duets with Brenda Lee Eager on The Temptations’ “It’s Growing,” and puts his own spin on Stevie Wonder’s “He’s Misstra Know-It-All,” which features En Vogue’s Cindy Herron and the legendary Ray Parker, Jr.
Chubby understands the importance of gratitude—for life and for people. He thanks Preston Glass, David Nathan, and Bobby Holland, a longtime friend who also is his photographer. Unlikely Hero represents a full circle experience for Chubby Tavares, and he is clear he has lived his experiences for a reason. “I know the Good Lord wants me to express myself the way I feel; that’s why He keeps me around. My mother used to tell me, ‘No matter how many people are in the audience, whether it’s three or three hundred, you have to bring them together and make everybody feel like they are one.’ That’s what I continue to try to do with my music—make people feel like we are one. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Odu Adamu, SoulMusic.com Editorial Contributor